cover image Beast


Donna Jo Napoli. Atheneum Books, $17 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83589-6

Despite its wonderfully imaginative premise, this refashioned Beauty and the Beast falls curiously flat--it is more cerebral than romantic in tone, more laborious than lush in its execution. Unlike Robin McKinley, whose Beauty and Rose Daughter focus closely on the heroine, Napoli (Crazy Jack; Zel) concentrates on the Beast. He is first met as Orasmyn, son of the shah of Persia. As the royal family prepares for a sacred feast, Orasmyn makes a grave error in permitting a scarred camel (""a beast who knew suffering"") to be sacrificed in a holy ritual. Although the sacrifice has been offered to God, it is a djinn (a spirit that can take on disguises) who takes offense and curses Orasmyn, who awakens the next day to find he has been turned into a lion. The bulk of the novel is devoted to Orasmyn's life as a lion, everything from his probing of the complexities of his fate and his Islamic prayers to his constant efforts to obtain food and his inability to resist other animals' kills. More attention seems paid to the mechanics of Orasmyn's strange existence than to the narrative logic; the storytelling strains when Orasmyn walks, by night, to the South of France and finds a beautiful castle that has been abandoned and left unplundered, presumably because it is rumored to be haunted. When Orasmyn finally meets Belle, they fall in love over the Aeneid, which Belle reads aloud to him in Latin (quoted here, without translation). At her father's, Belle misses ""reading and praying together"" with Orasmyn; love is mentioned but not emphasized. The weight of the historical and cultural settings overpowers the mysteries and enchantment of the original plot. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)